Orientation trips
The Mondriaan Fund organises orientation trips for visual artists and mediators to Asia, Latin America and Africa since 2004. The trips are aimed at exchange and cooperation between visual art professionals.

The first day of the orientation trip was immediately a packed program. After a late arrival in Dubai the evening before, the bus picked us up in the morning for a two hour drive Abu Dabi. At this Louvre we were welcomed by Juliette Singer, chief curator modern and contemporary art.

She shared inside information on how the collaboration was lined up on governmental level (UAE and France) to make the name Louvre, the expertise and partly the collection of the Louvre available for this new museum, that opened in 2017.
It was interesting to think about what it means to open a museum on this scale and whith these budgets at the present moment in this country that is changing so rapidly. The architecture of Jean Nouvel is impressive and overwhelming and very generous and invitive with its wide spaces in the galleries and the traffic area’s.
Even though it is named the Louvre, what stroke us is that the collaboration is far beyond that and includes a number of French Museums. Among these is the Centre Pompidou who currently had an exhibition presented there. 

We had the feeling it is a very social political strategic undertaking where both countries benefit from. However, it turned out very different in this massive building. On the one hand it presented a very French and, in that regard,, mute for its surrounding, exhibition, but on the other the collection display that covered most of the museum it really tried to create a new perspective that for sure was not Eurocentric.

Under the umbrellas of ‘Humankind’ and ‘Universalism’ ancient art(efacts) from all over the globe is presented together in a highly aesthetic setting. Objects form different cultural and religious backgrounds are deliberately paired together to underline the similarities instead of its differences. This very formal approach works pretty well and is harmless enough to leave the full interpretation of these combinations to the viewer. It was remarkable to see how many school groups strolled through the galleries with all sorts of didactic activities provided by definitively inspired tutors.

So far so good, also in deep reading the wall labels that seemed to have an agenda to indeed celebrate the consistency in meaning and appreciation (there was room where an ancient Koran, Bible and Torah were sitting peacefully next to each other). This strategy seemed to work better for the earlier times than for the modern times. In the chronology after 1700 this pairing and combining became less formal and started to lean more on the wall labels that briefed the viewer on ‘Cosmography’ and the ‘World in Perspective’ and ‘ A New Art of Living’ where the traces of the Eurocentric where unmistaken present in the paintings that were chosen to bring the story, or even message.

The collection display of the 20th century was less outspoken and consisted mainly art works by famous artists. Except for some strong pieces, not their best work which is of course hard to get since so most of the top works are of course already placed in museum collections.

The next stop of our bus was NYU Abu Dhabi 
where we first had lunch together with many staff members of the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery 
Here we could hear more from a personal perspective how this again ‘world brand’ functioned. In this very well-equipped school young talents (they are scouted) have an opportunity to have an exhibition with high standards in an international frame.

We had a guided tour with Maya Allison, Executive director and chief curator, first the Art Center equipped with a black box and a music/dance/performance scene and a small exhibition space, hosting a show with collaborations between scientist and artists.
Maya Allison then took us to the Art Gallery giving us a tour in the exhibition Speculative Landscapes, which she had curated. The four artists from the region all presented new commissioned works, and the installations and the artworks in the show reflected professionalism and a high quality. Maya explained that they were proud to be able to execute the works in this high standard which we understood is not so easy in Abu Dhabi which has no tradition for working with contemporary art.

Back in the next stop was Warehouse 421 in Abu Dhabi which is a former port warehouse area, and the space has been renovated nicely to host exhibitions for young and upcoming artists.
Two exhibitions were on show: one with students from six British art Schools operating in the region, which was an average “after two year of art school presentation”, however it was great to see such a array of creativity. There were two exhibitions, one over abundant salon hanging, and a show giving an overview of artists how where nominated the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Fellowship.

After a bus ride back in the typical rush hour traffic of this car saturated country a lovely local meal was enjoyed in the company of the Dutch Ambassador Lody Embrechts who was as fresh as the last venue, only one month on the post….

Jannie Haagemann, Nayab Noor and Bart Rutten